I’ll admit that the very first thing I thought when I read this post from Pablo Defendini was “Damn, how can I come up with the capital to start this business?” The opening salvo paragraph:
If I were a rich man, I’d buy B&N, get rid of all the mass market shelf space, replace it with an Espresso Book Machine, start strong-arming publishers to print and bind really, really nice hardcovers at lower print runs and stock the hell out of those, and open up the B&N in-store ebook store to all devices and platforms (fuck it; even license mobi from Amazon if I can).
There is in fact an empty Barnes and Noble building in Myrtle Beach left over from when it moved two years ago. It’s been sitting idle ever since. It was always jumping before, so the location is capable of sustaining a thriving bookstore business. However, as cool as I thought this idea was, today I saw this story on MediaBistro about a bookstore actually using the machine.
Oddly to me, the story is written triumphantly as if this is a success story. Looking at the numbers, it looks pretty dismal to me. They paid for a $118,000 Espresso Book Machine and in 5 months have sold 1,500 books with it. Let’s say they sell those books at an average of $12, they average 250 pages long. My understanding of the variable costs is that they’d be spending $2.50 in licensing fees per book, about $2 per book in materials and at this point, $79 per book in amortization of the cost of the machine. In 5 months, they are 10% of the way to breaking even on the costs of the machine. At this rate of sales, in another four years they will have finally recouped the cost of the machine and can begin to profit from it. At that point, it will generate $80/day profit, which would be at the low end of a living wage for a single employee. This sounds like the opposite of a sucess story to me, it sounds like a rough start and possibly the early days of a boondoggle.
As cool as the technology seems to me, at this point one would need a lot more volume than this to justify the machine or a real eye to the long game. It’s possible that if one were to open a store with Pablo’s model in mind, that both the volumes would be higher and there would be enough revenue from the other sources to keep the business viable. However I’m reading that MediaBistro story not as the “booyah” it seems to want to be but more of a “Warning: potential loss of ass ahead” warning sign.
This morning I listened to the audio of this talk that Seth Godin gave to the Independent Book Publishers Association. In 20 minutes, he laid out a way the publishing industry can adapt to changing landscapes and thrive in the future. It’s a 45 minute talk total, 25 minutes were question. 20 minutes was all he needed to throw a lifeline to publishers. He took an analytical look at what publishers actually do and which of those functions can be done better by other business entities and what value propositions that leaves with publishers.
I find it amazing that the big publishers fail to understand the lessons of The Innovator’s Dilemma including the company that published that book. They have and continue to use the relatively small market share of electronic books and POD editions as a reason why they shouldn’t care about them. That’s exactly the process that happens according to Clayton Christensen – a company defines itself too narrowly and avoids the hard decisions to change direction because the old direction is too lucrative, up until the point that market collapses and they are screwed.
I sometimes give Seth Godin static for his blog posts that seem to come straight from the autopilot, but I highly recommend this talk. This is top shelf Godin from when he brings the A game. If you have any interest in publishing or the future of books, give it a listen.
Earlier this year I took a vacation from social media and I’ve been feeling the urge to turn off the computer more and get out and about in the real world. As it happens, a few weeks ago Andre Pope decided out of nowhere to assemble a softball team of the Myrtle Beach area geeks. That was well in keeping with the sort of thing I want to do more of, so I joined up. When I went to the first practice, it was my first time wearing a glove or swinging a bat in 18 years.
The last time I played softball was at the 1992 World Fantasy Convention at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, GA. Baseball fanatic and science fiction writer Rick Wilber put it together, and I happily went out and played with a group of fans and writers that included both Jack and Joe Haldeman, Pati Nagle, Newton Streeter, Richard Gilliam, Alexandra and David Honigsberg and many others. That game was so much fun that a virtual community formed around it for years afterwards with a fake science fictional team called The Double Breasted Fedoras. I still have a jersey hanging in my closet.
When I stood on the field playing catch with the softball, it was a kind of fun I haven’t had in a long time. I surprised myself by dropping fewer flies than I expected, and never once whiffing on a swing. Every time I swung the bat, I connected with the ball. I try specifically to be open out there and I hope over the course of this season to play every position on the field at least once. I’m not very fast so I’m not a shortstop type but I still want to play it at one time or another. Our coaches specifically put our team in the least competitive league available to us. Our goals aren’t to kick ass so much as get off our asses. I aim to do just that.
Here is the direct MP3 download for the EGC clambake for August 20, 2010. I play a song from the newly reformed Vaselines; I talk about anti-nostalgia, and harken back to the beginning of this podcast; I play a song by the Gentle Readers; I tell the story of how I come to love the music of the Gentle Readers; I talk about my lack of needing to convince anyone much of anything; I play a song by Camper van Beethoven and we begin the seventh year of this thing.
Tomorrow I’m going to do something I very rarely do. I’m going to sit down and record an episode of the EGC Podcast before I go to work, crackly morning voice and all. This is because I got a wild hair up my ass on August 20, 2004 and recorded the first episode of what became my podcast. I referred to it as an “audioblog” for a while and only stopped because some of the guys who were doing audioblogs before that time were such dicks about the term that I chose to abandon it to them altogether. The audiobloggers tended to record short pieces from crackly unlistenable cell phone connections, and my primary inspiration was the first few episode of Adam Curry’s Daily Source Code. I wanted to do more of a production with music and playing audio quotes of other shows and so on. Sure, the audiobloggers were doing what they were doing before I was but their esthetic and goals were so far from mine I never felt any kinship with them. Also, they were really prickly and not much fun.
To this day, I still have XML URLs in my subscription list that I signed up for in the first 3 months of podcasting. Michael Butler’s Rock and Roll Geek Show, IT Conversations, Michael Geoghegan’s Reel Reviews, Georgia Popplewell’s Caribbean Free Radio. Some publish as regularly today as they ever did, some haven’t had episodes in years. Doesn’t matter, I’m still there when and if something comes down.
My goals have changed and my output radically lessened, but I’m still two feet squarely in the podcast camp. Since the first time I bought a portable MP3 player, I haven’t listened to the radio in my car except as a transmitter for my podcasts. All Things Considered is what I listen to only if it is physically impossible to listen to Deliberate Noise or Tom Vs. the Flash or The Hour of Slack or WTF Pod. Even then if my player battery dies I generally choose the sound of my tires on asphalt over that of NPR. Six years of listening to podcasts has changed my tastes irrevocably and turned me off of the faux populism of This American Life. I can’t even stand the way people talk in that weird, stilted affectation on public radio.
I’ve been doing this for six years and I’ll keep going for the foreseeable future. As the fifth podcaster in the world, that only means something while I keep going. No one cares about the pioneers who quit doing it. They are just historical footnotes.
Thanks to everyone who stuck with me this whole time, those who came in somewhere in the middle and continued, and even those who gave up on me. I’m appreciative for every second of attention all of you gave me, for however long it was, whatever your reaction. Thank you for the gift of your time and I hope to keep repaying that for as long as I can.
Just yesterday I was trying to see if I could generate Flattr beta invites. I’m a little disappointed in how slow things have been since I joined, both in terms of getting and giving Flattrs to other people. I just don’t see that enough folks using it that I think about doing it on an average day.
Well, today I saw the news that Flattr is out of closed beta and anyone can sign up. I think that’s good news. I think it’s an interesting project but my evaluation of it so far has been skewed by lack of critical mass and the fact that most of the users of it to date seem to be German speakers so I’m not that into most of that. I personally love the “no mental transaction cost” of not deciding how much to pay. Just Flattr the way you’d Digg anything, and the money takes care of itself.
Some of the user pushback I see is from people whose response is “but but … I don’t get to decide how much to pay? Everyone gets the same thing from me that month? Where is my fine-grained control <sputter />.” In my own life, I am doing everything I can to eliminate those large number of decisions I make every day that I just don’t give a shit about. “Give this site $0.03 or $0.05? Is this one $0.17 worthy?” I don’t want to think about any of that.
I’m going to give Flattr more of a shot to determine how useful I find it. Whenever I run out of my first chunk of money, I’ll evaluate whether it seems reasonable to recharge that account. I’m guardedly optimistic. I’d like to see some webcomics people adopt it, I think they might find it more useful and lucrative than Project Wonderful. What can it hurt to try?
Today, we posted Episode Six of the Peakecast, our memoriam show for the late great Thomas Peake. This time out, the show is all the music of Guitar Roberts. Doing an episode of this show is always a melancholy experience. It’s good to hear my friend’s voice and be able to present his work, but I hate like hell that the program even exists.
This is a validation of what I’ve always claimed is the very best aspect of podcasting. A show doesn’t need a huge constituency to make it worth doing. This show has a theoretical maximum listenership in the three digits and yet it is still wildly worth doing. If you knew and miss Thomas Peake, listen. Even if you didn’t but you love good music of wild diversity, listen. I promise it will be worth your time.
Here is the direct MP3 download for the EGC clambake for August 7, 2010. I play a new song from George Hrab; I talk about the new sponsorship by Hover.com; I talk about my increasing divergence from the rest of the online digerati about the value of gadgets; I discuss my trip back to Kansas for my high school reunion; I play a song by the band Carissa’s Wierd [sic]; I talk about how my side projects are beginning to cause thrash and despite that, I want to publish an old school paper zine and do more projects that have something you can touch; I play a song by 3canal that makes me chair dance and then dance into the sunset.
I didn’t actually intend to take a summer hiatus from online stuff but de facto I did. Decision by decision for the last few months, I’ve opted away from creating and publishing things online and more towards relaxing. The exception is at Ebooks From TV where I’ve blogged more or less every day since early June. However, since that’s not personal and is done for a very specific single purpose, for some reason that has felt much easier.
Tomorrow I’m recording an episode of the EGC podcast and at some point I have to prepare episode 6 of the Peakecast. I still have work to do on the movie footage in the can, episodes of Reality Break that really need to be put together, an office that desperately needs cleaned, an air hockey table that needs to be sold on Craigslist. I’ll have to upshift my lazy ass from summer gear to productive gear, but I think it can be done. I’m just trying not to grind the gears too badly.